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Suspended barrister named in deception case

02 February 2018

Ody Lai and Ester Ylagan during happier times.
By Daisy CL Mandap

Former employment agency owner Ester Ylagan has accused her ertswhile friend, suspended Filipino barrister Ody Lai Pui-yim, of using deception to have an Aberdeen flat she used to co-own with her husband (now deceased), to be transferred in Lai’s name.

The allegation was made by Ylagan in a complaint she made to the Central Police Station on Dec. 5, 2017, a copy of which she supplied to The SUN.

The SUN tried to get Lai’s comment on the complaint via email last January 23, and alerted her to the email subsequently on a group chat on messenger, but received no reply.

However, shortly after The SUN's printed version of this story was published yesterday, Feb 1, Lai posted in her Facebook accounts in the name of "Ydo Lai" and "Ody Apostol Lai" a vigorous denial of Ylagan's claim, saying in part: "I have nothing to do with scamming anyone  not even Ester who was supposed to be a friend. Police has no actionable complaints against me that warrants investigation."

Lai also warned: "This is pure DEFAMATION on my person just to sell a story and I now warn The SUN of the consequences of your news". 
Lai's FB post

The two women used to be close friends, and were both officers of the group Club Filipino Hong Kong. Lai, 56, was the founder/chair of the organization, and Ylagan, 65, was president.

In her 4-page cautioned statement, Ylagan said she consulted Lai in July 2016 about the money claims filed against her by some 200 job applicants who were unable to take up the jobs that she had promised them in Canada and Britain.

Ylagan said, “As far as I know, Ody was a barrister and I thus trusted her that she would represent me in settling the case. Ody was supposed to help me refund the applicants upon selling my property in Aberdeen. I co-owned a property with my late husband, and it was situated at Flat D., 6/F, Block 2, Waterfront South, No. 1 Yue Wok Street, Aberdeen Hong Kong. My husband and I purchased the flat in 2000 for about $2.38 million and it was a 2-bedroom flat with sea view.”

 Later, Ylagan said she again met with Lai in a Chinese restaurant in Tai Koo Shing to consult her about the sale of the Aberdeen flat.

 “Ody then asked me to transfer the property to my son and let Ody sell the property so the money will be used to refund the applicants. I trusted Ody and listened to her. Later, I recalled that my son Michael had brought a set of documents regarding the property transfer for my signature. I signed without looking into them in details. In Nov. 2017, I asked my son what happened to the property and he told me it was transferred to Ody because he does not know how to sell the property.”

After agreeing on the sale of the flat, Lai allegedly told Ylagan to go back to the Philippines “to rest”. Lai allegedly told Ylagan that the police in Hong Kong were set to arrest her so she was not to stay in one place in the Philippines and to change her name.

Ylagan also alleged that Lai told her delete all her whatsapp, viber and Facebook accounts and to stop communicating with anyone.

Later, Ylagan said she asked why she needed to stay in the Philippines, and Lai allegedly answered that it was because she didn’t have enough money to fight the case and she didn’t have a strong defense.

“She told me for sure that if I return to Hong Kong I would for sure go to jail if they could prove my criminal intent.”

At that time, Lai had already been suspended from practicing as a barrister. A decision handed down on Sept. 26, 2016 by the Barristers Disciplinary Tribunal found Lai guilty on all 10 charges filed against her by the Bar Council, and suspended her from practicing as a barrister for four years, and pay a penalty of $200,000 plus costs. The decision can be found here:

On March 3, 2017 Lai reportedly contacted Ylagan in the Philippines and told her to sign documents authorizing the barrister to withdraw money from her MPF account in Hong Kong “to pay back the applicants and legal fee”.

Lai allegedly sent Ylagan via courier a set of documents which included a “Statutory Declaration for Claims of Payment, request for policy surrender and MPF forms.

“However, after I sent all those documents (back) to Ody, I have never heard from her anymore,” said Ylagan in her statement.

Later, Ylagan said she learned from her son Michael that only $90,000 was left in her MPF account.

She also learned from The SUN that the cases filed against her by her job applicants were still ongoing. “I was shocked because I thought Ody is working on the case for me and I was speechless when I saw myself on the news,” she said in her statement.

Realizing that nothing was done to settle her cases, Ylagan said she contacted the HK Police and asked for an interview to clarify the matter.

She also contacted her son Michael who had gone abroad by then, to ask why the flat was transferred to Lai’s name. Michael reportedly told his mother that Lai would return the property after three years, and that they could deal with the matter then. Michael also allegedly told Ylagan that Lai did not pay for the property.

Ylagan said she had not tried to contact Lai since her return to Hong Kong because “I am very scared of Ody and she would go mad if she even knew I have returned to Hong Kong.”

Ylagan said she also learned that Lai had been suspended from practicing as a barrister.

High Court allows legal aid for Ylagan's claimants

The High Court has cleared the way for legal aid to be granted to around 200 Filipinos suing to claim more than $2 million from Ester Ylagan, the employment agency owner who promised them non-existent jobs in Canada and Britain.

The decision to allow the appeal against the Legal Aid Director’s decision rejecting the application of the claimants was reached during a chambers hearing on Jan. 18. It is  believed to be the first time legal aid was granted in a class action suit.

Solicitor Melville Boase represented the Mission for Migrant Workers in the appeal.

Mission case officer Edwina Antonio told The SUN: “Akala kasi ng Legal Aid e sisingilin sila para sa bawat aplikante, pero sinabi ni Mr Boase na kami na ang gagawa ng paperwork kaya hindi ganoon kalaki lalabas ang bayad sa legal fee.”

A total of 129 claims against Ylagan and her defunct company, Mike’s Secretarial Service, are pending at the District Court where they were transferred from the Small Claims Tribunal.

Twenty-one claimants had managed to win their claims before the transfer. The next hearing of the cases before the DC has been set to March 2 this year.

The court was also told that Ylagan had returned to Hong Kong, offering to settle the claims if she could recover the Aberdeen flat she used to co-own with her late husband, Rick, who died in October last year.

In its reasons for rejecting the application, the Legal Aid Department cited Ylagan’s unknown whereabouts as one of the grounds, apart from the failure of the claimants to show receipts of the money they paid the recruiter.

Ylagan returned to Hong Kong in December last year, and filed a police complaint  claiming the flat identified as Flat D, 6/F, Block 2, Waterfront South, Aberdeen was obtained by her friend, suspended barrister  Ody Lai Pui-yi, through deception.

A search by the Legal Aid Department showed Ylagan had bought the flat with her husband in November 2000 for $2.37 million. The property was transferred in the name of their son, Ridge Michael on July 23, 2016, for $2.6 million. Then on March 20, 2017, it was further transferred to Lai for a consideration of $5 million.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Police has reportedly given notice to some of the claimants that it is now ready to start investigating their fraud complaint against Ylagan, who disappeared just before the Small Claims Tribunal started hearing the cases against her in mid-July 2016.

The police had earlier declined to get the complainants’ statement, saying Ylagan had filed a complaint on July 8, 2016, saying she herself had been duped into sending $4.19 million to someone who used the names William Clinton Erich and William Clinton James on Facebook. Ylagan claimed $2 million of this came from her own personal funds.

In the complaint, a copy of which Ylagan furnished to The SUN, the veteran recruiter said she communicated with Clinton James only through the email he gave her:”. She had no mobile numbers or address for the agent. Despite this, she complied with his order to send money through Moneygram and Western Union to five people with African-sounding names who lived in Burkina Faso. She said she made 86 remittances in total to the given accounts.

Ylagan said she did not profit from the apparent scam. But the unknown agent promised her a UK passport, 15 return tickets to London, and an “opportunity to explore the UK business market,” in exchange for her recruiting hundreds of applicants for the non-existent jobs.

At the time she remitted the $4.19 million, Ylagan said she had recruited 400 applicants. She stopped when she was asked to increase the number to 650, then 800.

Each applicant to Britain was asked to pay $10,000 and $15,000 for those applying to Canada. A leaflet Ylagan had circulated said “any jobs” were available in the two destinations, causing hundreds of applicants who had relied on her reputation as a 30-year veteran of the recruitment business, to swamp her World Wide shop in Central between January to May, 2016.

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